by Jeremy Plonk
October 9, 2020
$250,000 GRADE 1 JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP AT BELMONT PARK
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Belmont Park's Super Saturday of Breeders' Cup preps includes the 2-year-olds in the Grade 1 Frizette and Champagne, turf fillies and mares in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl and the Classic division players in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The 1-1/4 miles Gold Cup goes for its most discounted purse since Affirmed won it 1979, and that's certainly impacted its depth and quality. While it may not be a Gold Cup of Curlin and Cigar, Skip Away or John Henry, what about 2020 is? I was set to pass the race until I handicapped it; vulnerable favorites are like catnip to a horseplayer.
TACITUS and MYSTIC GUIDE are Grade 2 winners, the former against all ages, the latter against 3-year-olds only. NAME CHANGER has won at the Grade 3 level. HAPPY SAVER is a listed stakes winner making his graded debut. PRIORITIZE is Grade 1-placed in search of his first stakes win.
With no confirmed front-runners in the field of 5, jockey intent will be key. Given the elbow start midway on the clubhouse turn for 1-1/4 miles races at Belmont, expect Irad Ortiz Jr. on HAPPY SAVER to be aggressive from the gate and utilize the rail advantage this trip creates. TACITUS or NAME CHANGER figure to pursue closest. This race can and should be won on or near the lead.
TACITUS has the resume, winning races in the Big Apple like the 2019 Grade 2 Wood Memorial and July's Grade 2 Suburban. But he's been a relative moneypit. He's won just 1 of his last 9, and is 1-for-5 as the favorite in that span. I didn't see any way he'd lose the Grade 2 Suburban against a substandard field and he delivered his best performance in some time. But then he was back to his old self in the Grade 1 Woodward when decent, but not great, Global Campaign led him on a merry-go-'round. He's 1-for-4 at Belmont, 1-for-4 this year and 1-for-5 at 1-1/4 miles. All of that equals the Suburban. At what figures to be a short price, I'll bet he doesn't have an encore.
Three-year-olds MYSTIC GUIDE and HAPPY SAVER are the alternatives. They get in at 122 pounds (4 less than the elders). And I'm clearly in the camp of one over the other.
MYSTIC GUIDE and his regal pedigree finally delivered in the Jim Dandy when he bested a modest field that included eventual Preakness longshots Liveyourbeastlife and Jesus' Team. While the latter did come back to run third at Pimlico, he was beaten double-digits by the winner and didn't give the Jim Dandy any rousing endorsement. John Velazquez winds up on MYSTIC GUIDE after Jose Ortiz opted to stick with TACITUS. Curiously, it was Velazquez who actually got the most out of TACITUS when he piloted him in the Suburban. MYSTIC GUIDE will have to be kept closer to the pace than he's used to and may be taken out of his best kick. Dam Music Note was stellar here at Belmont.
But I strongly prefer unbeaten HAPPY SAVER. Visually he's looked like a future star in each of his first 3 starts. He traveled to Laurel for a Preakness 'Win & You're In' victory in the Federico Tesio, but I never felt confident he'd wind up in the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Trainer Todd Pletcher loathes to run horses in the Preakness for whatever reason; but you can look at his rampant record in the Derby and Belmont and make that deduction without hesitation. Pletcher saw a short-field JC Gold Cup forming and found a very easy Grade 1 spot, much easier than facing Authentic, Art Collector and eventual winner Swiss Skydiver at Old Hilltop. The 1-1/4 miles should not be a problem with a ground-saving trip, favorable track configuration and fact that his papa Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby over the distance. HAPPY SAVER has BRIS late pace figures of 95, 94 and 99 in his 3 starts, which should be plenty competitive with these late if he's handed the early lead as expected.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: TACITUS hasn't missed a superfecta sans a trip to Saudi Arabia.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: In a 5-horse field, this isn't really relevant. You're not playing tris and supers when the payout math works this poorly in your favor.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $80 win HAPPY SAVER looking for 2-1 odds or more. $20 daily double SUPER SAVER to TAMAHERE in the Race 10 Sands Point. If the price on HAPPY SAVER dips below 2-1, the full amount goes to the daily double.